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Milton Friedman: The Last Conservative

Milton Friedman The Last Conservative
Thought Leader: Jennifer Burns
February 20, 2024

Although there are already several biographies of the economist Milton Friedman, not to mention Friedman’s own memoirs—written with his wife and scholarly collaborator, Rose Friedman—Burns adds color and light in this first critical biography of the man to be grounded in the archives, including personal papers. As Burns’s fluid prose makes clear, Friedman’s contributions to economics were fundamental: they included the permanent income theory of consumption, his monetary interpretation of the causes of the Great Depression, and the fixed money-growth rule to control inflation, to mention only a few. Friedman was more than a theoretical and empirical economist, however. He had an equally influential incarnation as a public intellectual and political gadfly, advancing arguments for school vouchers, an all-volunteer army, and a universal basic income. He lauded the efficiency of markets in books, magazine columns, and television series and criticized government intervention in the economy as infringing on individual liberty and discouraging personal responsibility. His ideas had a significant influence on British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, among others. Burns’s book is not just a definitive biography of an influential economist but also an account of the development of economics as a discipline and a tool of public policy over the twentieth century.

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